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Tag:Ron Brace
Posted on: December 14, 2011 10:14 am
Edited on: December 14, 2011 11:31 am
 

Film Room: Broncos vs. Patriots preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


It might just be the most anticipated matchup of the season: Tom Brady vs. Tim Tebow. One quarterback inspires because he has it all and wins, the other inspires because he has none of it and wins. Let’s break it down.


1. Evaluating Tebow
If you want a rehashing of Tebow’s quarterbacking strengths and (many) weaknesses, or an opinion on whether the Broncos should invest long-term in their unconventional “star”, or a theory about motivation and inspiration and divine intervention, hit the message boards or talk radio. The focus of this post is on what Tebow has shown on film the past few weeks.

In short, he’s getting better as a passer but still has a long ways to go. He’s been very good against Cover 2 looks. He made the Vikings pay for their frequent (and, frankly, mind-boggling) mistakes two weeks ago, and he conjured up several critical late-game completions the week after, when the Bears moved from man coverage to a soft Tampa 2 (where a few goofs by the secondary and a lack of pass-rush killed them down the stretch).

Tebow remains slow in the pocket – in terms of progressions, decisiveness and ball release – and he falls back on sandlot tactics if his first read is not there. This isn’t the worst thing, though, as he’s clearly proven to be clutch in this style. He’s very effective on the move, both as a scrambler and passer. He can extend the play with a unique Roethlisberger-like sense for avoiding and shedding pass-rushers.

But unless the Broncos can continue to win while averaging less than 20 points per game offensively, they’ll need more aerial dimension, progression reads and overall consistency from their young quarterback.

2. Denver’s run game
When offenses put a bunch of bodies on the line of scrimmage, the natural assumption is that they’re relying on sheer human mass to bulldoze the defense and clear a path for the running back. In actuality, what they’re often doing is creating more running options for the back. The more players there are along the line of scrimmage, the more gaps there are for the defense to worry about.

This is why you frequently see the Broncos bring a receiver in motion down to the tight end spot just before the snap; it’s not the receiver’s blocking prowess that the Broncos like, it’s that his presence expands the run front surface. Generally, the defense responds to this by matching players to gaps (in other words, crowding the line of scrimmage).

The brilliance of Denver’s zone-option run is that it forces defenses to crowd the line of scrimmage when there’s still the threat of a pass. Granted, this passing threat is weak – usually only two or three receivers run routes, and defenses are happy to see Tebow throw – but it’s not weak enough for defenders to completely ignore. Thus, they’re distracted ever so slightly from their run-stopping assignments.

More than that, the zone-option presents a myriad of run possibilities on a given play. The ball could go to Willis McGahee, fullback Spencer Larsen, a sweeping receiver or stay with Tebow. And with so many options, the ball does not necessarily have to follow the direction of the blocking scheme.

These are all factors that defenders must mentally process after the snap. That’s not how defenders are accustomed to playing the run.
Also, keep in mind, defenses do not generally account for quarterbacks in the run game; Tebow’s threat as a runner has a wildcat effect that gives the offense a numbers advantage if the D does not bring an eighth man in the box.

3. How the Patriots will defend the run
A smart, fundamentally-sound run-defending front seven can still stymie the zone-option. Usually, it takes two stud linebackers and two stud defensive ends. The Bears and Jets both had these resources and, aside from a play or two, they both shutdown the Broncos’ ground game. The Bears did it out of a base 4-4 (safety Craig Steltz played in the box all game); the Jets did it out of a base 3-5.

Whatever the defensive alignment, the basic principles are the same: the linebackers must see the field well enough to track the ball and identify gaps. More importantly, they must run well enough to catch up to the ball (because, as we’ve examined, defending the zone-option is strict assignment football, where the reads are more details-oriented than in conventional run defense). The defensive ends must have the physical strength to penetrate against one-on-one blocking, as well as the discipline to stay within the strict confines of their edge duties.

It’s unknown whether the Patriots will follow Chicago’s 4-4 scheme or New York’s 3-5 scheme Sunday. They’ve alternated between various defensive fronts all season. More pressing is whether the Patriots even have the personnel. Inside linebacker Jerod Mayo is elite, but whoever’s next to him is most certainly not (Bill Belichick has tried a litany of different players here). At left end, Vince Wilfork is obviously a monster.

On the defensive right side, Andre Carter has been outstanding at times, but he may not have the necessary size to trade blows with a left tackle like Ryan Clady for four quarters. If the Patriots go with a 3-5 approach, they may want to rotate massive youngsters Ron Brace and Brandon Deaderick at end and use Carter’s flexible movement skills in space (ala Calvin Pace of the Jets).

Keep in mind, the Broncos have a sound rushing attack even without the zone-option. McGahee has a league-leading six 100-yard games on the season, and his front five is capable of winning one-on-one battles across the board. The Patriots got abused last week by a Redskins rushing attack that entered the game ranked 31st.

4. Back to the air
It’s entirely possible that Tebow and the Broncos will be able to move the ball through the thin Mile High air this Sunday. The Patriots’ pass-rush has been more “miss” than “hit” in 2011. Their secondary currently features a journeyman special teamer at strong safety (James Ihedigbo), a wide receiver and career-long special teamer at free safety (Matthew Slater) and another wide receiver at nickelback (Julian Edelman).

That’s the type of lineup you only see when someone is screwing around playing Madden.

If the Patriots bring Ihedigbo into the box, they’ll have to play either Cover 3 (zone) or man-to-man downfield. Because defensive backs must face inside when playing Cover 3, the way to attack them is with outside routes. Broncos wideouts Eric Decker and Matt Willis are effective on these patterns.

In man, cornerbacks must obviously stay with their assigned wide receiver. This season, Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty have simply not done that. Arrington improved his ball skills but has still been exploited. McCourty has been just plain porous.

5. Patriots previous blueprint for Tebow?
We’ve looked at how the Patriots might defend the Broncos offense as a whole. What about defending Tebow specifically? One player who is somewhat similar in style is Vince Young.

The Patriots devised a shrewd gameplan when they faced the Eagles backup in Week 12. Using a mix of 3-4 and 4-3 looks, they focused on keeping Young in the pocket, forcing him to be a passer. They did this by jamming his tight ends and wing/flex receivers with defensive ends and blitzing linebackers.

That disrupted a lot of Young’s quick outlet throws and forced him to make reads downfield. When Patriot blitzers did actually go after Young, they always came from the front side. That way, Young would see the blitz and instinctively scramble to the backside. On that backside would be a defensive end in containment.

At the end of the day, this approach generated three sacks and 21 incompletions for the Patriots defense.

6. Other side of the ball
Even though Tebow has been at his most comfortable throwing against Cover 2, the Patriots would presumably love to play that defense often this Sunday, as that’s the tactic they tend to fall back on when protecting a big lead. The reason Tebow has not had to put together four good quarters of even semi-traditional quarterbacking during this six-game win streak is because no team has managed to jump way out in front against the Denver defense.

New England will certainly look to change that. Expect some form of hurry-up early in the game. Even if playing with a lead weren’t extra important this week, Tom Brady would still come out throwing, as it’s difficult to run against Denver’s base 4-3 (their tackles Broderick Bunkley and Marcus Thomas hold ground well, and their linebackers all cover ground well).

Most offenses would prefer facing Denver’s nickel D. It’s a much easier group to run inside against, and the revolving door at No. 3 slot cornerback has been a weak spot for the Broncos since Day One. The Broncos will likely use their nickel D against the Patriots’ base 12 offense (one back, two tight ends, two wide receivers). This will make John Fox’s group somewhat vulnerable to the run, but Fox would rather see Brady handing off than throwing.

Because so much of New England’s offense is horizontal, it’s important for a defense to have as much speed at linebacker as possible. In this sense, nickel linebacker Wesley Woodyard is better suited than starter Joe Mays. What’s more, in nickel, the Broncos can go with three downlinemen and create more space for their excellent inside blitzers, Von Miller and D.J. Williams.

Generating pressure inside is a must against Brady. The only way to disrupt him is to move him off his spot and make him play frenetic. The more Brady moves, the less likely he is to throw between the numbers. That’s critical, as these statistics show:

                            Tom Brady 2011 Passing Stats
          Between the Numbers         Outside the Numbers
   COMP %
                  73.4                     54.7
    YPA                   9.44                     7.31
  QB Rating
                 118.2                     86.8

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 15 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: April 4, 2011 1:31 pm
Edited on: April 5, 2011 7:25 am
 

Offseason Checkup: New England Patriots

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

 

Eye on Football's playing doctor for every NFL team with our Offseason Check-ups .



The Patriots were probably the best team in football last season, compiling a 14-2 record before surprisingly losing to the Jets in the second round of the playoffs. Let’s see what New England had: Outstanding QB, check. Pretty good running game, check. A good enough offensive line and wide receiving corps, yes. A rock-solid defense, um, no.

The team had its problems on defense – which is talented but oh so young – but the wizardry of Brady who knows coach Bill Belichick’s system so well overcame most of those defensive hiccups. The Patriots haven’t had a losing season this century, so whatever constructive criticism that follows in this piece doesn’t suggest that the Patriots suddenly will struggle to win games. With Belichick, that simply doesn’t happen very often (unless, ahem, he’s donning the headset in Cleveland).




Recent unsuccessful playoff runs

A ridiculous statistic for you: the Patriots haven’t won a playoff game since the 2007 AFC championship game. That’s right, since that undefeated New England squad lost the Super Bowl to the Giants, the Ravens in the 2009 playoffs and the Jets in 2010 – all three of those were considered upsets, as well.

Doesn’t matter that New England has an annual chokehold on the AFC East (though New York is beginning to threaten that dominance), the Patriots can’t get anywhere in the playoffs. They haven’t won a Super Bowl in six years. So, what’s the problem?




1. Wide Receiver
Getting rid of Randy Moss probably was the right call for New England, but when the Patriots sent him away, they also lost their downfield threat. You might argue that Moss’ skills are in decline – and the Titans would DEFINITELY say that – but he’s still quite a long-ball receiver. Wes Welker is one of the best slot receivers in the game, Deion Branch had a nice comeback year and New England’s young tight ends are really solid. But a Moss-like receiver would be welcome.

2. More DL depth
Mike Wright and Ron Brace missed a combined nine regular-season games last season before injuries forced them to the Injured Reserve lists while Ty Warren missed the entire year, and a trio of rookies (two of whom were undrafted) were forced to step in and replace them. What the Patriots need in this year’s draft is a pass rusher off the edge, and since they have a plethora of draft picks, they could certainly try to trade up and find one. Wright, with 5.5 sacks, was the team leader, and following behind him were LBs Tully Banta-Cain and Rob Ninkovich. They need some help on the DL, though newly-signed Marcus Stroud could certainly ease some of that burden.

3. Better secondary play
Devin McCourtey had a strong rookie season, leading the team with seven interceptions and Leigh Bodden – who missed all of last year – will be a definite upgrade over Kyle Arrington. Pat Chung is solid at the SS spot, but FS Brandon Meriweather wasn’t very good last season (how he made the Pro Bowl is baffling). It would not be a surprise if New England tries to replace him.




The Patriots obviously have some corrections that need to be made. But this franchise has been the best – and most feared – in the NFL since Belichick took over (though Rex Ryan absolutely will NOT kiss his rings), and he doesn’t hesitate to get rid of loyal Patriots who he feels can’t help them anymore (I’m looking at you Richard Seymour, Adam Vinatieri, et al). The Patriots will continue to battle with the Jets for AFC East dominance, but like usual, New England will be a preseason favorite to win the Super Bowl.

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Posted on: January 13, 2011 1:24 am
Edited on: January 13, 2011 12:29 pm
 

Patriots vs. Jets: 7-Point Divisional Preview

Posted by Andy Benoit



CBSSports.com's patented and award-winning 7-point preview gets you ready for each and every playoff game. As an added bonus, check out our playoff podcast preview:



1. New York Jets (No. 6, AFC, 12-5) @ New England Patriots (No. 1, AFC, 14-2)

The regular season’s undisputed champion begins the final chapter for a fourth Lombardi Trophy by hosting the preseason’s self-proclaimed undisputed champion. The Jets are responsible for one of the Patriots’ two losses on the season (Week 2 at the New Meadowlands), though revenge was already administered by the Pats in that 45-3 November Monday night thumping.

Still, you can bet the Patriots will come out focused and hungry (or with something to prove or with a chip on their shoulder or whatever hollow cliché you prefer). These AFC East foes both know their opponent and, after the Jets stifled the Colt offense by refusing to blitz Peyton Manning, are capable of debuting a freshly-minted, never-before-seen gameplan for this decisive rubber match.

2. PLAYOFFS?! Watchability Ranking



On the field, the Patriots are the most interesting team in football once again. Off the field, the Jets are, so it's a near-miss Five Mora Face ranking.

3. Key Matchup to Watch: Jets run offense vs. Patriots run defense

In that Monday night thrashing, Tom Brady carved up the Jets by exploiting their iffy nickel and dime backs (Drew Coleman and Dwight Lowery). Confident and fond of his defense as he may be, Rex Ryan knows that the best way to slow Brady this time will be to keep him off the field (just like the Jets did during the second half against Manning).

You control the ball by running. The Jets stayed on the ground 38 times for 169 yards at Indianapolis. Of course, there is a considerable difference between running against the undersized Colts front seven and running against the oversized unit of the Patriots. Normally, the Patriots prefer to align Vince Wilfork in the opponent’s favorite run gap. Against the Jets, that would mean putting the “325-pounder” at left defensive end. Of course, the Jets may be less inclined to follow their usual “run to the right” formula now that tackle Damien Woody is on IR.

For matchup purposes, Bill Belichick may be tempted to put Wilfork outside so as to capitalize on the mismatch against Woody’s replacement, Wayne Hunter. Hunter is a superb athlete but he hasn’t always shown consistent raw power. However, Mike Wright and Ron Brace’s trips to injured reserve depleted New England’s depth up front. Veteran end Gerard Warren has been a decent starter alongside rotating rookies Brandon Deaderick (seventh-round pick), Kyle Love (undrafted) and Landon Cohen (undrafted), but with these men starting, the Patriots have been less variegated with their front-three looks.

If Wilfork remains at nose tackle, expect the Jets to run away from him – i.e. outside. Because tight end Dustin Keller is a glorified slot receiver (not unlike New England’s Aaron Hernandez), Brian Schottenheimer may be inclined to bring Robert Turner off the bench for more six-man offensive line formations. Even if the Jets can win in the trenches, their running backs still must make plays against the athletic Patriot linebackers. Usually Nick Mangold is at the second level to help pave a path, but Wilfork will give him more to deal with than most nose tackles.

Beating New England’s linebackers is a tall order for the Jets runners. LaDainian Tomlinson is coming off his best career playoff game, but neither he nor Shonn Greene has the quickness and elusiveness to make a beast like Jerod Mayo miss.

4. Potentially Relevant Video

For all the denigration of the Jets after the Sal Alosi episode, you might want to take a look at this seven-year old video of Bill Belichick’s crafty sideline ploy against Marvin Harrison.



5. The Jets will win if ...

Mark Sanchez (the franchise’s all-time winningest postseason quarterback, believe it or not) is more accurate than he was last week. That’s not all, of course (not even close). New York must bog down in the red zone (figure they won’t be able to prevent Brady and company from racking up yards between the 20s) and shift field position at least twice (via special teams or a forced turnover).

6. The Patriots will win if ...

Brady gets in his usual rhythm working out of the shotgun spread (a formation that naturally limits the presnap disguises that Ryan’s defense is built around).

7. Prediction: Patriots 31, Jets 20



Posted on: November 1, 2010 3:21 am
Edited on: November 1, 2010 10:53 am
 

10 stories that deserve your attention Week 8

Posted by Andy Benoit

1.) D.C. Drama

It was one of those scenarios that make you question yourself. You see Donovan McNabb standing on the sidD. McNabb (US Presswire)eline with 1:45 left in the fourth and the Redskins trailing the Lions 30-25. You see Rex Grossman taking the field. You pause a second. Once you’re sure it’s really happening, you say, Wait, what’d I miss here?

Benching McNabb for Grossman is a decision that’s somehow as downright stupid as it sounds. Most baffling is that this stupid decision was made by Mike Shanahan. It’s one thing to bench a veteran star quarterback. It’s another to bench him when he’s managed to lead your team to a decent 4-4 record despite having a fourth-string running back and a slew of fourth-string receivers playing prominent roles. And it’s another when he had been playing well in the very game you sat him down.

Behind a banged-up Washington offensive line that was overmatched by Detroit’s suddenly vibrant front four (Ndamukong Suh is the early favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year), McNabb endured five sacks, 10 hurries and 11 hits Sunday. Yet still, he was 17/30 for 210 yards passing, plus he ran for 45 yards on four scrambles. OK, sure there was the interception to Alphonso Smith and, before that, another bad ball that Smith should have picked and taken to the house. But fine, let’s say McNabb’s performance Sunday was only mediocre. There’s still the unforgivable factor in Shanahan’s stupid decision, which is that the guy he replaced McNabb with was Grossman.

That’d be the same Grossman who could barely find a team last season; the same Grossman who actually invented new ways to turn the ball over as a Bear. When you flip karma the bird like Shanahan did, karma tends to respond quickly. Sure enough, on his first snap, Grossman made a play that only Grossman could make, fumbling the ball on a nasty blindside sack. Karma was so ticked off at Shanahan that not even Suh’s foolish Leon Lett impersonation while returning the recovered fumble could prevent a Lions victory at that point.

Thanks to a bye, the Redskins now have two weeks to deal with the ensuing storm of controversy that is about to unload on D.C. And karma is not likely to throw them any breaks. The next time McNabb and the Redskins take the field will be Monday, November 15, when they host…the Eagles.



2.) NFC powers tighten gap on AFC powers

You had to know it wouldn’t last. Yes, the AFC is better than the NFC this year, but not by the ridiculous margin that September and October gave us. Outstanding defense brought us closer to equilibrium Sunday, as the Packers stifled the Jets and the Saints swarmed the Steelers. Both NFC teams dominated behind their defensive pass rush.

The Jets had no answer for Clay Matthews’ speed off the edge. It helped that Brandon Chillar had his best game of the season, and Green Bay’s young defensive linemen, B.J. Raji and C.J. Wilson, controlled the trenches.

The Steelers could not get ahead of the Saints’ über-aggressive blitzes. It was remarkable that Gregg Williams dialed up the attacks, considering he was without top three corners Jabari Greer, Tracy Porter and Patrick Robinson (who left early with a right ankle injury). The two most popular preseason Super Bowl picks from the NFC are now both 5-3.



3.) New York’s Gamble
S. Weatherford (US Presswire)
Sticking with the Jets-Packers game…

When Jets punter Steve Weatherford took off and ran from inside his own 20-yard line late in the first quarter Sunday, you could have sworn you were watching your idiot roommate playing Madden on the X-Box. The Jets actually fake punted from their own 20-yard line! And on fourth and 18! After replay, it was determined that Weatherford stepped out of bounds a yard-and-a-half short of the first down. Green Bay wound up getting three points out of the splendid field position – the only points the Jets D has allowed in any first quarter this season – and Rex Ryan left himself open to easy second-guessing.

Except, it wasn’t Ryan’s decision. Turns out, Weatherford made the call. That’s right, the punter – the punter! – called his own number. Whoa, talk about gall. Take any receiver willing to go over the middle, any quarterback willing to step into a blitz and any linebacker willing to shoot the gap against a steamrolling running back and, chances are, none of them have the stones Weatherford must have. Afterward, he explained himself:

"It would have been a good decision had it been fourth-and-nine, but that’s my fault. I made the decision to try to make the play, but it didn’t work out for the team. We’re a team that’s willing to go out there and lay it on the line, but it just didn’t work out today. It’s a situation where I don’t have the green light, but if I do it, he’s not going to be mad if I get it. It has worked out in the past. It worked out in Oakland, it worked out in Miami, (but) today, it didn’t. It could have been a huge swing for us in the game, but obviously we came up about a half-yard short."



4.) Little Big Men

Let’s shift to a positive special teams note and go back to the Lions-Redskins game. Did you see the electrifying return artists in that contest? In order to, you may have had to squint in order to. Detroit’s Stefan Logan (5’6”, 180 pounds) and Washington’s Brandon Banks (5’7”, 150 pounds – that’s right, 150) put on a show.

Logan had a dazzling 71-yard punt return in the second quarter to set up one of Calvin Johnson’s three touchdowns. (Johnson, by the way, spent all afternoon taking advantage of the inconsistent safety help on DeAngelo Hall’s soft man coverage.

Banks had a 96-yard kick return for a score. He also had a 46-yard kick return, a punt return that went for 35, and another kick return score that got called back for holding. And before he was aware of that holding penalty, Logan celebrated his score by dunking the ball over the goalposts. That’s a 5’7” man dunking over a 10”-high crossbar while wearing full padding and still catching his breath after running the length of the field.



5.) The bad NFC team we should be talking about

I refuse to discuss the Dallas Tin Men, errrr, Dallas Cowboys this week. We just saw them last week on Monday night. We have to see them next week on Sunday night at Green Bay (apparently, that is “America’s Game of the Week”). We have to see them on Thanksgiving and again a few weeks later on NFL Network. There will be plenty of chances to talk about what’s wrong with America’s team, what changes Jerry Jones will make, how obvious it is that Wade Phillips is a dead man walking, etc. And mind you, the Cowboys will be irrelevant in the playoff hunt this entire time. So, knowing that’s ahead, I’m going to rest upB. Green-Ellis (US Presswire) and save my sanity by pretending the game against the Jaguars never happened (this, by the way, makes me feel like a Jacksonville native).

I will, however, talk about the NFC’s other fallen team, the Vikings. While it’s chic (and easy) to assume that everything is Favre’s fault, the reality is, the Vikings defense has been one of the great underachieving units in football this season. Jared Allen dressed as a ghost for Halloween. Come to think of it, Allen actually busted out that costume a few weeks ago. His teammates haven’t stepped up, either.

For the first time in team history, the Vikings have gone three straight games without a sack.

With a nonexistent pass rush, Minnesota’s ho-hum secondary has been exposed. Madieu Williams put on a clinic Sunday for how not to make plays; Pats receiver Brandon Tate should have given the veteran safety a game ball afterwards. And scouts are finally figuring out what’s wrong with cornerback Asher Allen: he’s not good at playing football. Allen gives up separation in his man coverage technique, he struggles to locate the ball in the air and his open-field tackling is hit or miss.

What’s more, the Vikings’ once-impenetrable run defense is giving up only 3.9 yards per carry, but overall, it ranks 13th in yards per game. That’s as startling drop considering this group ranked second last year and first in each of the three years before that. Late in the fourth quarter Sunday when the Vikings needed a stop on the ground, they plain couldn’t get one. On New England’s final possession, BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran the ball six times for 60 yards to ice the game.



6.) Uh oh

You ever noticed the amount of misbehavior the youngest kids in families with a lot of children can get away with? It’s stunning. While the parents are getting drained dealing with the older kids breaking curfews, fighting amongst each other and bringing home ugly report cards, the younger kid is secretly living a dream that includes watching raunchy movies, stealing bits of cash from around the house and detonating fireworks in the elderly neighbor’s mailbox. It isn’t until something goes really wrong before the parents realize that they’ve been neglecting their biggest handful of all.

Think of Randy Moss as the rebellious youngster in Minnesota. While everyone is focusing on Brad Childress and Brett Favre and, perhaps now, Jared Allen and the defense, the newcomer at wide receiver is subtly stewing about what’s turned out to be a lost season in his contract year. Did you hear what Moss said after the Patriots game? Here are the big pieces:
R. Moss (US Presswire)
On his relationship with the media…

"I got fined $25,000 for not talking to you all, and me personally, I really don't care, but at the same time, I do ask questions, I mean answer questions throughout the week. The league can fine me $25,000. I'm not going to answer any more questions for the rest of this year. If it's going to be an interview, I'm going to conduct it. So I'll answer my own questions. Ask myself the questions, then give you all the answers.”

On his former teammates…

"Man, I miss them guys, man. I miss the team," Moss said. "It was hard for me to come here and play.

"Been an up-and-down roller-coaster emotionally all week. And then to be able to come in here and see those guys running plays that I know what they're doing, and the success they had on the field, the running game -- so, I kind of know what kind of feeling they have in their locker room, man, and I just want to be able to tell the guys that I miss the hell out of them. Every last helmet in that locker room, man."

On his preparation with the Vikings coaching staff for this game…

"The bad part about it -- you have six days to prepare for a team, and on the seventh day, that Sunday, meaning today, I guess they come over to me and say, 'Dag, Moss, you was right about a couple plays and a couple schemes they were going to run.' It hurts as a player that you put a lot of hard work in all week, and toward the end of the week, Sunday, when you get on the field, that's when they acknowledge about the hard work you put in throughout the week. That's actually a disappointment."

His final word…

"I'm definitely down that we lost this game. I didn't expect we'd lose this game. I don't know how many more times I'll be in New England again. But I leave coach Belichick and those guys with a salute: (and yes, Moss actually saluted while saying this). 'I love you guys. I miss you. I'm out.'"

Read into all that what you will. I read into it that this is Moss’ way of telling the Vikings, I hate being on this team.



7.) The NFL’s best team?

According to the standings, it’s the Patriots. They’re the only team that has just one loss on the season. It’s kind of hard to believe, given that New England pairs a ball control offense with a defense that ranks 28th in yards allowed and dead last on third down. But no team manages in-game situations better than the Patriots. (That’s why their games always feel so choppy.)

At least that 28th-ranked defense is improving by the week. Jerod Mayo is a star at inside linebacker. He’s a rock of a run defender and a sterling open-field tackler against the pass. First-round rookie Devin McCourty is blossoming into a bona fide No. 1 corner. The defensive linemen around Pro Bowler Vince Wilfork have elevated their games; Mike Wright has a sack in four-straight contests, and last year’s second-round pick, Ron Brace, showcased his development on the fourth-down goal-line stop in which he blew up Phil Loadholt and stuffed Adrian Peterson. Finally, safety Brandon Meriweather is close to regaining his ’09 form. Overall, this is a young defense that should only get better.



8.) Do we believe the nautical villains?

I’ve been saying all season that the Buccaneers are not good enough in the trenches to make the playoffs, and that the Raiders’ greatness on paper is matched only by their embarrassing ineptitude on the field. I’m not ready to eat crow yet, though I’m fingering my silverware (I’ll assume crow is something you’d eat with a knife and a fork).

The Bucs got their fifth consecutive road victory with a 38-35 win at Arizona Sunday. But Tampa’s MVP that game was Cardinals quarterback Max Hall. When the undrafted rookie threw his first career touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald, the veteran receiver, rushed over and gave Hall the ball (it was a truly classy move by Fitzgerald, considering how justifiably frustrated he’s been with the team’s quarterback play this season). Along these lines, it would have made sense for Bucs corner Aqib Talib to give Hall a souvenir ball on the second quarter pick-six he threw, as that was Hall’s most precise touchdown strike on the afternoon. D. McFadden (US Presswire)

That was also Hall’s second pick-six on the day, which is why Ken Whisenhunt decided that maybe Derek Anderson is the best guy to lead the team after all. (If Anderson and Whisenhunt were dating, all of Anderson’s friends at this point would be pleading with the quarterback to stop letting the head coach just use him like this.)

My point? The Bucs are 5-2, but their most recent win came against a hapless Cardinals club. Obviously, a win is a win in the NFL. But if the Bucs’ head coach wants to talk about his team being the best in the NFC, then the “they haven’t beaten anybody” argument is fair game. The combined records of the teams Tampa Bay has defeated (Cleveland, Carolina, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Arizona): 12-24. The combined record of the teams Tampa Bay has lost to (Pittsburgh, New Orleans): 10-5. So, I’m skeptical. It will be easier to gauge this team after it faces division foe Atlanta next week.

Regarding the 4-4 Raiders, wins over Denver and Seattle don’t exactly merit great acclaim, but the convincing nature of those wins does. After spanking the Broncos 59-14, the Raiders pounded the Seahawks 33-3. Darren McFadden – whom I was shocked to learn, led the league in yards after contact heading into this game – rushed for 121 of the team’s 239 yards. This against a Seattle run defense that ranked second in the league prior to Sunday.

Jason Campbell was a sterling 15/27 for 310 yards and two scores – and those numbers aren’t inflated by one or two Jon Kitna garbage time-like plays. Campbell threaded the needle on both touchdown strikes. The first was to fullback Marcel Reese, a versatile second-year pro who can best be described as “exactly what 49er fans erroneously claim Delanie Walker SHOULD be”. Reese is an effective route runner when lining up as a wide receiver. Campbell’s second touchdown was to Darrius Heyward-Bey, who is inconsistent, but in a good way (given that last season he was consistently dreadful).

Is Oakland a legit contender? In the AFC West, perhaps. But overall...well…at least they can win in the trenches. (The defensive line was every bit as dominant as the offensive line Sunday.) That makes them more stable than Tampa Bay. Still, at the end of the day, a team must be able to throw in order to win. The Bucs at least have an upstart first-round quarterback in Josh Freeman. The Raiders still have a controversy between Campbell (who played well Sunday but, throughout his career, has proved to be a robot programmed for mediocrity) and Bruce Gradkowski (a poor man’s Jeff Garcia).



9.) NFL makes a good impression in Europe

So the Brits wound up seeing a pretty good game between the 49ers and Broncos. Dammit all. The hope to avoid having to share the truest American sport with the rest of the world looks more futile than ever.

On Sunday, after a slow start that probably still had Wembley Stadium’s soccer-acclimated sellout crowd of 83,000-plus on the edge of its seats, the offenses for both teams came to life late in the second half. Thirty of the game’s 40 points were scored in the fourth quarter. Both teams relied on their usual identity. For the Broncos, that meant riding Kyle Orton (28/40, 396 yards). For the Niners, that meant riding Frank Gore (29 carries, 118 yards).

Though a compelling contest it was, and though interesting is the debate over whether it was a mistake for Josh McDaniels to keep the team in the U.S. until Thursday (three days longer than the Niners), the story of this game is the success of the NFL’s British venture. Not only did the game sell out, but approximately 38,000 fans filled Trafalgar Square for an NFL block party Saturday. Earlier in the week, Roger Goodell said the league’s goal is to put a team in London. Maybe that’s just lip service the Commissioner had to pay in the days leading up to this game, but if the world has learned anything the past 10 years, it’s that in whatever way globalization can happen, it will.

So start getting your minds wrapped around it, football fans: the NFL is only going to ingrain itself deeper in London. And, perhaps, other foreign markets. Maybe you’re cool with that. If you are, great. If you’re not (like me), Sunday was just another reminder that you’d better start getting used to it.



10.) Quick Hits

***Todd Haley went for it again on fourth down Sunday. This time the Chiefs had fourth-and-two and were deep in Buffalo territory. For the past few weeks, people have been commenting on Haley’s gutsy fourth down calls. But we’re discovering that this is just the way the man coaches. He’s attempted 11 fourth downs this season, tied for fourth most in the NFL. The difference is that very few of them have been of the desperation variety. Haley believes it’s a numbers game, and he usually makes the decision to go for it a few plays before reaching fourth down (to help the play-calling, he tell offensive coordinator Charlie Weiss ahead of time when it’s four-down territory). It’s an unusually aggressive approach.S. Smith (US Presswire)


***Interesting that the Jets had Darrelle Revis play left cornerback in the first half and then had him shadow Greg Jennings in the second half. Revis was effective in both cases – it was just fun watching Rex Ryan change up the game plan.


***Steve Tasker, who spent the entire overtime period between the Chiefs and Bills trying to add a soothing calm amidst the lovable screaming of Gus Johnson, had a great line about Ryan Succop’s first field goal attempt in OT. When Succop’s ball got caught in the wind and suddenly hooked sharply left, Tasker said “that ball had a left turn signal on it”.


***The Rams wore their blue and yellow throwback uniforms to honor the retirement of Isaac Bruce’s number 80. It’d probably be good if we started debating Bruce’s Hall of Fame credentials now. Given the length of the Art Monk trial, and the Andre Reed-Cris Carter-Tim Brown dilemmas, Bruce’s candidacy is going to be particularly complicated.


***Turns out cornerback Sean Smith didn’t fully regain his starting job for the Dolphins this week, but against the Bengals he played extremely well. Smith got some help from an erratic Carson Palmer on the game-sealing interception, but before that, he was very active covering receivers with underneath technique.


***I’m not affiliated with the San Diego Chargers, but even I felt a little awkward seeing Vincent Jackson standing on the sideline in street clothes Sunday.


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